All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

1

Grand Union Orchestra at Wilton's Music Hall

Duncan Heining By

Sign in to view read count
Grand Union Orchestra
Wilton's Music Hall
London
June 14, 2017

Song of Contagion, Grand Union Orchestra's latest show, would be a strange subject indeed for any other ensemble. But for leader/composer Tony Haynes and his comrades, it sits perfectly within the orchestra's progressive dialogue between the musics and diverse histories of this small planet.

Emerging from a conversation between Haynes and epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani, Song of Contagion is about disease. More importantly, it explores how responses to it are frequently shaped not by need but by social, racial and economic injustices. The Western media's hysterical concern about the Zika Virus resulted from fears that it might affect the 2016 Olympiad. That same media has persistently ignored the far more deadly Dengue virus. Take AIDS or previously Cholera and similar stories unfold.

That this hard-hitting show brought GUO back to Wilton's in London's East End, itself the site of major 19th century Cholera epidemics, seemed rather appropriate. A heavy subject? Of course, it is. Yet, Song of Contagion is serious but never solemn. GUO's music is, as ever, a dynamic collision of musics and rhythms. It is music for movement and dance—and it is music that makes you clench your fist. Bhangra rhythms and the tabla of maestro Yousuf Ali Khan bridged continents on "Song of Cholera" taking the disease from London to Kolkata and other places where it still runs rife. The human voice has a special place in GUO's world and, here, voices from India, Bangladesh, Africa, the Caribbean and Malaysia combined as an aural and visual testament to how we might act together as a species in the face of contagion.

The contrast between the strings, percussion and horns on "Song of HIV" was incredibly effective and affecting. Here, the music built slowly and powerfully with some beautifully plaintive trombone from Vij Prakash set against some fine work from the (very) young string trio of Lily Baker Haynes, Abigail Adams and Jessica Judge. But it was the climax to "Mosquito Songs" that gave the work its musical and moral centre. African chants were picked up first by trumpeter Claude Deppa and with an all-too-brief flute solo from Tony Haynes, Chris Biscoe, Louise Elliott, Tony Kofi. Then it was the drums. With the great South African percussionist and original GUO member Brian Abrahams returning to the fold, this was a kaleidoscope of world rhythms, as congas, kit drums, tabla and African drums crashed together.

The second half of the show built more slowly. A music hall parody seemed perfect for "Song of Broken Hearts" (cardiovascular disease), beautifully and wittily delivered with Davina Wright channelling Marie Lloyd—"A little of what you fancy does you in!" Then different voices told tales of war, displacement and PTSD—"Mind Songs." This was perhaps the most poignant section. Moments of reflection became increasingly intense, as the music again began to take over in the form of a swirling big band section with contributions from Deppa and Paul Shanti Jayasinha on trumpets and Chris Biscoe and Tony Kofi on saxophones. And what amazing charts Haynes had given them! A brief encore and a chance to dance came with the bonus of a cameo each for two of Grand Union's Youth Orchestra graduates—Oliver Ross on baritone and Evan Cryer on trumpet. It was over too soon.

Song of Contagion is definitive Grand Union Orchestra—a feast for the ears and the eyes—and the mind!

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Branford Marsalis and Jean-Willy Kunz at the Kimmel Center Live Reviews
Branford Marsalis and Jean-Willy Kunz at the Kimmel Center
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: February 18, 2018
Read Trish Clowes at Mermaid Arts Centre Live Reviews
Trish Clowes at Mermaid Arts Centre
by Ian Patterson
Published: February 17, 2018
Read Hitch On 2017 Live Reviews
Hitch On 2017
by Martin Longley
Published: February 17, 2018
Read WDR 3 Jazzfest 2018 Live Reviews
WDR 3 Jazzfest 2018
by Henning Bolte
Published: February 16, 2018
Read Chick Corea/Steve Gadd Band At Blues Alley Live Reviews
Chick Corea/Steve Gadd Band At Blues Alley
by David Hadley Ray
Published: February 14, 2018
Read Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band at Sculler's Jazz Club Live Reviews
Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band at Sculler's Jazz...
by Nat Seelen
Published: February 13, 2018
Read "Wadada Leo Smith At Firehouse 12" Live Reviews Wadada Leo Smith At Firehouse 12
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: May 11, 2017
Read "Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon At The Old 76 House" Live Reviews Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon At The Old 76 House
by David A. Orthmann
Published: April 27, 2017
Read "We Jazz Festival 2017" Live Reviews We Jazz Festival 2017
by Anthony Shaw
Published: December 16, 2017
Read "Siena Jazz International Summer Workshop" Live Reviews Siena Jazz International Summer Workshop
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: August 8, 2017
Read "Bryan Ferry at the Paramount Theater" Live Reviews Bryan Ferry at the Paramount Theater
by Geoff Anderson
Published: August 19, 2017